Sanctuary

IMG_0140And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

When we think of sanctuary, we think of safe space; one where we might find peace. Sanctuary is a place where we can take refuge from all that surrounds us. Within the church, we have several perceptions of sanctuary and where it can be realized. For some, sanctuary is that place near or at the altar. It is the Holy of Holies, the place where God resides. Others speak of sanctuary as being that place where God meets us for worship. No matter your definition, and regardless whether you are taking refuge from some source of anxiety or seeking peace, sanctuary is always found upon holy ground.

Think of sanctuary as being that quiet place where we draw close to God. It’s the most intimate setting, found deep within the safe confines of our heart. Through scripture and prayer we are able to retreat to this safe space. In our mind, quieted by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can begin to envision a room filled with holy relics and images.

Imagine the walls of your safe space decorated with images such as Christ our Good Shepherd, Jesus welcoming the little children and Jesus calming the storm. Fill this room within your heart with visions of stained glass and icons of faith. Soon you will feel the peace and power of God’s presence. Such is the comforting hope of sanctuary.

Our world is filled with powers that defy God, temptations that work against all that we believe is good and proper. As we continue the struggle of living faithfully within a broken world, it is good to take refuge in Christ our Lord. Continually seeking the richness of God’s kingdom, soon we ourselves become living sanctuary for those who do not know the power of God. Invite them in. Help them find rest and respite from all the world’s distractions. Assist them also in seeking the peaceful sanctuary of God’s love. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard the hearts and minds of the faithful in Christ Jesus.

Photo: Chancel at St. Matthew Lutheran Church – Charleston, SC

People of the Way

DSC_0695But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5

Once while on vacation, my wife and I were enjoying the scenic back roads of North Carolina. We planned our day using the road atlas I had owned for several years. The plan was to get from point “A” to point “B” in time for dinner. Unwittingly, we ran into a problem. The paved road we are traveling, marked on the map as a state road, gradually became a gravel trail leading deep into the woods. I had confidence in my map and continued to follow it. Not too much longer we were faced with a decision; follow the map, or listen to the voice inside our heads encouraging us to turn around. As it turned out, using an outdated map I followed the wrong road. This is closely akin to what Paul teaches the Church in our reading of Ephesians 2:1-7.

Paul reminds the people of God that once dead in our sinfulness, all have traveled the road of disobedience and selfishness. It is a familiar road, one well traveled and if left to ourselves, we would choose this road most often. Along this road the “prince of power in the air” strives to lead humanity away from God and into a false sense of independence. All too often those who follow such a road are confident in their decisions and become convinced it is the right path. We church people even have a saying that exudes such confidence; “It’s the way we have always done it.” Yet, unless our actions are rooted in Christ and our path illuminated by Holy Scripture, we will certainly find ourselves heading in the wrong direction.

All too often we tend to look at our past and attempt to make our present resemble the good old days. The trouble with this thinking is that, neither the world of our past, nor of the present day resembles the world God intends for the future. Christians live with the temptations of our age old rebellion; we are continually being lured away from God by the “powers in the air.” More often than not, these powers seem pleasing, fulfilling and rewarding. The ugly truth, however, is that they are the most destructive force leveraged between God and humanity. We must learn to recognize the path leading in the wrong direction, especially when the one most comfortable and familiar is not actually rooted in Christ. The difficulty is, “It’s the way we have always done it.” So what’s the answer?

Paul is clear that it is God who has rescued us from earthly powers. By grace through faith in Christ we are saved. Through the teaching of the apostles, Christians are afforded the example of Christ like living. Jesus himself provided the example for all to follow. Turning to Scripture, which is our unfailing guide and never outdated, we can recognize the path of righteousness. Even as we find it difficult to follow such a path, God promises to strengthen us and lead us by the power of his Holy Spirit.

In most cases, no one who is in control enjoys being told to turn back. We become convinced the old ways, the tried and true ways, our ways are best. Yet, our decisions left absent of Christ Jesus and his teaching will most certainly lead in the opposite direction. Rooting our processes and traditions in Christ, we soon realize there can be only one way, and we are best advised to follow it.

Life Made Simple

Bible with glassesYour word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

Taking a look around my desk, I am amazed at the technological gadgets at our disposal. We have so many things designed to make our lives simpler, solve our problems and keep us connected. On my desk alone there is a laptop computer, an iPhone, an iPod and a telephone. Each of these devices is connected to our local area network, which in turn connects me to an unlimited amount of information. This technology also allows me to speak with people just down the hall or around the world all in an instant. It truly is amazing when you think about it.

But at some point, all of my gadgets will either fail or become obsolete; I will need new gadgets will replace the old. Along with new things will come new instructions, which will force me to learn new words and new methods. I won’t do this readily. The older I get the more resistant to such changes I become and the more I long for the old ways. Yet, if I want to remain connected with the world I will have to find a way to adapt. It’s what the world expects; it’s what the world demands. Thankfully, such is not the case for the Church in her relationship with God.

God is the maker and provider of all things. Every need for life on earth is met through God’s provision; every day is a gift freely given from our heavenly Father. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God revealed the magnitude of his grace, mercy and love made manifest through his only begotten Son Jesus Christ. Filled with this same Holy Spirit, those who heard his teaching, saw his miracles and witnessed his death and resurrection shared this good news of God’s love for all generations to come. The truth of the gospel has been handed down through the ages that all may come to know of God’s salvation through Christ Jesus.

On my desk there is also a Bible. Yes, we can all access the Bible on our computers or phones, but the book with its pages bound together containing God’s written Word is the only means among these that will not fail. It will not become obsolete, it does not need to be connected to an external power source and its battery will not run down. Reading Holy Scripture does not make our earthly problems vanish, nor does it always make our lives simpler. Scripture does, however, help the faithful put life in its proper perspective. Instead of applying the instructions of our advanced society, the Bible helps us follow God’s precepts. When we fall short of God’s expectations, Holy Scripture points us in the direction of God’s mercy and grace.

The apostles gave witness to the saving act of God through Jesus of Nazareth and published these glad tidings for all to see and hear. The only instructions we need to follow are to pray, open the book and then read. Doing such, we remain connected with God, the apostles and all the saints in the mystical body of Christ. Certainly the world and all of its innovations can be used for the purposes of good. But it is God’s Word, our great heritage that remains as lamp to our feet and light to our path. Really, it’s just that simple.

Abundant Life

IMG_2099[Jesus said] “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:9-10

Jesus said he came so that God’s people may have life in abundance. More often than not, when humans think of life in abundance, we think of the many comforts and good things we would have. But Jesus didn’t promise “things” in abundance, he promised “life” in abundance. Truthfully, spending too much time on accumulation and consumption of “things” leaves precious little time for life. It leaves little time for worship, fellowship with God’s people, relationships, and building a faithful community.

The world of accumulation and consumption takes us away from God and from one another. It becomes a lonely and isolated life. Such a life stores earthly treasure up in barns rather than storing treasures in heaven. The thieves and robbers of the world, the voices of consumerism, materialism and competition would have us believe we are lacking and lagging behind our neighbor.

Too often we see this even in our churches; congregations focused on “things” in abundance have little life. Congregations focused on earthly abundance spend time a lot of time building, dressing and filling barns with more and more stuff. When we become preoccupied with ourselves, there is too little time for fellowship, relationships, and ministry in the community. Our Good Shepherd helps us to understand all of this.

The Good Shepherd text is sandwiched in between stories of Jesus restoring eyesight to the blind and the raising of Lazarus. God wants us to “see” correctly what abundant life is. It’s seeing Jesus for who he is. It’s hearing the voice of our Good Shepherd calling us to live according to God’s will, not ours. It’s understanding that through God in Christ Jesus we are saved, and those who have faith and follow the example of the Good Shepherd are raised to new life in God’s kingdom.

Life in abundance means life together as God’s people, tuning out the voices of the world and listening to the voice of our Good Shepherd. We must become people who spend much time together in worship, prayer and reading the Bible together. The Church must be a family in Christ that goes out into the community and does the work of God for the sake of others. In this way we share our lives as Christ shared his. We speak with voices of faith, so others may hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, follow him into the sheepfold and share with us the abundance of God’s kingdom.

Trouble with the Church

IMG_1436Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:12

It should be obvious; the world has trouble with the church. In virtually all aspects of human life, two messages prevail. The first message seems to be “Get what you can and keep it for yourself.” The second is like it, “Do what you want, when you want.” Of course these messages are contrary to the gospel, and therefore the world has a problem with the church.

Sadly, it often seems Christians also have trouble with the church. I wish I had a dollar for each time someone shared with me the notion “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” I would have a lot of dollars. I would have even more dollars if the phrase, “I experience God in my own way” was included in the deal. Such statements are also contrary to the gospel. It’s for this reason I say even Christians have a problem with the church.

Many have said, the most common reason people remain unchurched is because they don’t see any appreciable difference in the way Christians live their lives. Too often, Christians, especially those who go it alone, give in and pattern their lives according to societal norms rather than the biblical witness. It seems Christians also do what we want, when we want. We get as much as we can and keep it for ourselves. It’s no wonder the world has a problem with the church.

All people are sinners and face temptations that are destructive to their lives and relationships. Even the most devout and spiritual Christians need to be encouraged in their faith. Thinking you can remain faithful on your own is perhaps Satan’s most destructive force. By ourselves we are easy prey for the powers that defy God.

Peter exhorts the church, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” 1 Peter 2:16. He encourages Christians to live, not as the world lives, but faithfully together as God’s redeemed people. The community of faith is the Christian’s sure defense against the powers of sin and death. The very nature of being Christian means we worship together, have fellowship with one another and strengthen one another in faith.